So your gym owner doesn’t believe in the importance of Olympic lifting or plyo boxes. He thinks it’s too loud or his risk manager eighty-sixed the idea. Don’t worry, there are still great ways to build explosiveness using bodyweight and equipment every gym has available.
The following five exercises will ignite your fast twitch muscle fibers for explosive power. My goal with this system was to include instinctual movements that come naturally, allowing you to apply high levels of power from the day you start. They are easy to learn and apply without too much thought – thinking makes you slow when you want to be explosive.
While I love Olympic lifting, it is not the most accessible system. The learning curve is steep for an inexperienced lifter. In addition to needing the right setup, you also need good coaching and a lot of hours of practice to learn technique that is safe and actually translates to explosive power. On the other hand, presuming you have basic mobility and movement skills, you should be able to start reaping the benefits of this system immediately because training time from day one is devoted to the execution of quick and aggressive movements.
1. The Broad Jump
Broad jumping is my favorite power exercise for developing posterior chain power. There is something I love about coiling my entire torso followed by the violent forward explosion of my arms, chest, hips, and then legs on the kick. The broad jump has the phases I call the load, explode, and transition.
Setup with feet about shoulder width apart in an athletic stance with arms up at chest height. The load starts with a quick downward arm swing as you coil your torso down to the tops of your thighs. Shift your weight forward over your toes and on to the balls of your feet in preparation to project your bodyweight forward, not up.
Once loaded, explode by violently swinging your arms out in front of you, driving your hips forward, and springing off of your toes. Open your chest to your target and think explosive extension at the hips and ankles. After this initial explosion you will hang in the air for a moment before a second explosion of hip and spinal flexion, bringing your feet far in front of you for landing.
The transition is the final phase when you go from landing heels first in a bent-knee pike position to shifting your weight back onto the balls of your feet to take off again for another rep as quickly as possible.
Broad jumping develops power through the posterior-chain in much the same was as a snatch. It also has benefits to athleticism beyond what O-lifts can offer because the quick succession of repetition trains your body to contract and relax very quickly.
2. The Squat Jump
Squat jumping is the second exercise in the system and is great for athletes who need to get vertical. It carries over well to kettlebell-sport for those who compete in the snatch.
The setup and phases are the same as the broad jump only you are projecting your energy vertically:
Load with an arm-swing while coiling your torso down, though not as close to the tops of the thigh as the broad jump because too much lean will project your power forward.
Explode into triple extension with a violent arm-swing upward leaving from your toes.
Transition by landing on your toes, absorbing contact with the ground through your entire body and then explode back up for the next rep.
Squat jumps develop lower-body power and a quick second jump that is coveted by pro scouts when evaluating athleticism. There are a lot of guys who can jump high once, but how fast (and high) can they get back up there on the second jump, which is more often where possession of the ball is decided?
3. The Slam
Slams are a primarily anterior chain movement that are a great compliment to the jumps because they train the body to move explosively into flexion to balance all that extension work. Slams also train explosive shoulder extension, which has helped get my pull-ups and muscle-ups more powerful, while also being a nice balance to a lot of overhead work.
I prefer slamming with SandBells or duffle bags I’ve filled with sand bags, but they can also be done with medicine balls and kettlebells. I’ll take a moment to state the obvious – if you are slamming with kettlebells you should be outside on sand or on grass that no one cares about you destroying.
Crouch down with a firm grip on your slamming implement that is on the ground. The loading phase is going up into triple extension raising your arms and the implement over your head with elbows slightly bent. The key to this exercise is the transition from loading overhead to accelerating it back down as quickly and forcefully as possible. Bring your entire torso down toward the floor while trying to throw the implement through the floor in front of you with your shoulders going into extension and your arms into internal rotation (thumbs pointed back behind you) to finish it off.
4. The Kettlebell Quick Step
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4. The Kettlebell Quick Step
The kettlebell quick step is a great for developing an explosive first step or for fighters trying to improve punching or kicking power. Go into your normal back swing, but instead of doing a stationary two-hand swing, you will drive forward off of one leg as the kettlebell ascends with the other leg taking a big step forward. At the moment the kettlebell is weightless at chest level, you will step forward with the drive leg to re-establish a normal swing stance for the next rep.
Although alternating legs each rep mimics the way the legs move when sprinting, I like to do some sets of one leg driving because it mimics sports that have stopping and starting in the same direction or a fighter throwing multiple punches or kicks with the same side.
5. The Bulgarian Jump Squat
Bulgarian jump squats are one of the most brutal exercises in my system. Set up as you would with a regular Bulgarian squat, with one leg on the floor and the other leg rested back on a bench. Tap the knee of the back leg to the ground and drive up with enough power to actually leave the ground. To maximize your balance and the carryover to a single-leg jumping, swing your arms like you would sprinting or jumping off of one leg (opposite arm and leg in synchronization).
These five exercises from my minimalist system for building explosive power can be done in any gym. I devote two days a week to explosive training at the beginning of my workout. I either split the days up into a double-leg day/single-leg day or a vertical day/sagittal plane day. I include slams or another upper-body power move on both days.
Typically I do three six-week cycles followed by a two week PAP block. My six-week blocks consist of two weeks of 8 reps/set, two weeks of 5 reps/set at increased intensity, one week of 3-5 reps/set of highest intensity, and a rest week.
Weight vests are the best way to add intensity to these exercises while keeping the movements true. Light dumbbells will allow you to have a natural arm swing as well. When those two options don’t offer enough intensity I combine them and use kettlebells or dumbbells held in one of four positions (goblet, suitcase, front rack, or behind my head on my shoulders). What it takes away in arm swing it makes up for in the way it challenges your core, shoulders and grip.
Jump to these for more on plyometrics: